Saturday, July 21, 2012

It took a village

I have a talented friend.
A couple of months ago my friend Hilary (an artist, see pretty montage above) and I preserved some lemons using the recipe from Mourad,  the large, handsome and daunting book by Mourad Lalou, owner of Aziza, a Moroccan restaurant in San Francisco. It is the kind of book in which every recipe seems to include a seasoning mix that incorporates 15 spices, including one obscure, essential peppercorn that you need to mail order. To finish the recipe, you might require a tablespoon of chicken jus which starts with a chicken and ten pounds of onion and involves cooking them down all night under a parchment lid. Or something like that.

We decided to do a Mourad dinner and divide up the dishes. I don't want to speak for her, but I had my doubts, especially late Thursday afternoon when the dishes were stacked three feet high in the sink. I came around to thinking the book is well worth struggling with. If you have any interest at all in the book after reading this post, go to the library and check it out. I'm not copying any recipes because they are all very long and, as I said, many of the fold in equally long sub-recipes. Also, I've only made these recipes once.

I'll go dish by dish.

French 75s. Not from the book, but essential. Made by Hilary's husband's John using my cheap brandy rather than cognac. Even so, excellent.

fresh cheese. Made with goat's milk, but you could use storebought cow's milk. This requires no special starters or cultures, just acid, time, and biscuit cutters to shape the cheese into cute hockey pucks. They were bright and fresh and delicious. Excellent.

tomato jam. Served with the cheese. Made a lot. You cook down cherry tomatoes with sugar, spices, champagne vinegar, lemons, and butter, then puree. Excellent.

The cherry tomatoes really do look like cherries.
grilled flatbreads. Make dough, let rise, shape into balls, let rise again, flatten a bit, top with sumac, sesame seeds, oregano, and salt, grill. Topping: essential. The ones you don't burn will be excellent.

squid salad with Thai-style harissa sauce. Hilary made this refreshing starter of calamari and Napa cabbage and it was definitely more Thai than Moroccan. But not quite 100% Thai. I loved this. Excellent.

short rib tangia with aged butter and preserved lemons. Unlike anything I've ever cooked before. You brine bone-in short ribs then braise for four hours. The meat fell off the bone, which I don't think it was supposed to given the way the dish looks in Mourad's picture (mahogany beef on beautiful frenched bones), but who cares. You boil down the sauce and rub the meat with "aged butter" which is actually just ordinary butter beaten with some blue cheese. I thought this dish was incredible, like pot roast but with the texture of pulled pork and the zesty spice of pastrami. It was a bit salty and next time I'd only brine for 6 hours, not overnight. I will definitely make this again, with adjustments. Excellent. Possibly worth the price of the book.

chard with preserved lemons. What it sounds like, but much prettier because of the finely chopped colorful stems. Jewel-like. Hilary's contribution. Excellent.

orange-and-olive salad. Hilary's contribution from Arabesque by Claudia Roden. Super-refreshing. Excellent and necessary with the rich meat.

That meat does not look pretty.
fig leaf ice cream. While I have never harvested figs from the five trees I planted over the last decade, I have now proudly harvested leaves. Stupid fig trees. You grind the leaves with sugar and use them to flavor a very sumptuous, velvety ice cream, pale celadon green and with the flavor of coconut. Excellent.

almond cookies. Like amaretto cookies you buy wrapped in tissuey paper at Italian delis. Excellent.

chocolate-ginger cookies. Dark, chocolatey, intense, spicy. Confused. Not excellent.

Our one lingering question was why very little of this tasted Moroccan. Maybe if we'd made the basteeya? It will be a while until I'm ready to tackle Mourad's basteeya, but I want to revisit this book sooner rather than later. I probably need a week or two more of Clotilde's Dusoulier's salads, though.  Yesterday morning I couldn't get my rings off. Today I stepped on the scale. Fortunately, I will be spending the day at an oven-building workshop, far, far away from leftover fig leaf ice cream.


  1. Nice review. I have this book, but have not cooked from it. The recipes are intriguing and I love Aziza!

  2. since I am currently unemployed I may have time to make some of these recipes. those short ribs sound unbelievable. I am sure I will be able to source fig leaves in Washington D.C. or at least I hope so1

  3. since I am currently unemployed I may have time to make some of these recipes. those short ribs sound unbelievable. I am sure I will be able to source fig leaves in Washington D.C. or at least I hope so1

  4. Holy cow, that would take a village to make. I'll stick to your bagel recipe, but the rest is fun to read. Loved your description of adding a tablespoon of jus, onions, etc., and cooking down overnight. Too funny.

    (This post reminded me I've been wanting to make preserved lemons - thanks!)

    Kelly @